Panel – Gender Wage Gap

The New York Times’s Economix Blog had a post on Friday that summarized some interesting new polling data from Gallup. In light of our recent panel on the gender wage gap and the role of “choice” in individual decision making around staying at home vs. working, I thought it would be good to share some quick highlights here.

Among the most interesting findings is that stay-at-home moms reported higher rates of worry, sadness and depressed emotions than their employed counterparts (both with and without children).

This varies by income level, with mothers in households that earn less than $36,000 annually expressing higher rates of worry and stress than their employed peers.

My take away is not that being a stay-at-home mother is intrinsically bad for your mental health. Rather, it may be that the stressors associated with being a stay-at-home mother are such (for some women) that their mental health suffers in comparison to their employed peers. These stressors are likely complicated phenomena with a diverse range of etiologies. Unfortunately, the Gallup report does not go into any follow-up questions that were asked, so we aren’t given a good picture as to why women felt this way.

A couple caveats – these are self reported mental health evaluations, not evaluations by mental health professionals. They are also only descriptive statistics, with no included difference of mean measures or the like. Gallup reports that these data are drawn from a sample n of 60,000 and have a maximum margin of sampling error of +/- 1% (95% confidence).

The continuing presidential campaign in the United States has been dominated by a number of noticeable trends, including contentious debates about reproductive rights specifically (what some have called the “war on women“) and, more broadly, about gender roles in American society (think about the recent commentary on Ann Romney, a topic Adia has blogged about). There has also been much discussion about the state of the economy in the United States and continuing issues of un- and under-employment (see my posts here and here).

An important intersection of these two political debates is the counting disparity in pay by gender. A recent article in The Economist, citing work done by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, documented this phenomena, noting that women continue to earn, on average, 82.2% of what men earn. This gap, as the graphic below shows, varies considerably by occupational category.

Image via The Economist (April 17, 2012)

In the following three pieces, our regular bloggers Adia Harvey Wingfield and Julie Kmec join guest blogger Rebecca Glauber in dissecting some of the causes and debates surrounding the gender wage gap, both within and outside of sociology.

I’ve been using a lot of air quotes in my classroom discussions, and I’m finding it a bit troubling. Not just because the quotes date me to the late 1990s, but also because they are inadequate stand-ins for something that needs to be said. Those gestures you make by your ears that slip out with little warning, shooting up from your hip mid-sentence as if to add irony, complexity, and intrigue. Women’s and men’s “choices” in work. Women’s and men’s “choices” in family.

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A recent WSJ article by Kay Hymowitz (Why Women Make less than Men, April 26, 2012 ) reports that “most people have heard that full-time working American women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Yet these numbers don’t take into account the actual number of hours worked. And it turns out that women work fewer hours than men.” Hymowitz continues, citing Labor Department statistics indicating more than half (almost 55%) of workers who work more than 35 hours per week (what the department defines as full time work) are men and suggests that the sex wage gap is “to a considerable degree a gender-hours gap.”

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Julie and Rebecca have cited important sociological analysis that documents the fact that net of hours worked, the gender wage gap remains such that men still outearn their female peers in the same occupations. One other piece of commonsense wisdom often cited to explain the wage gap is the argument that women select occupations that tend to be lower paying—teaching, nursing, and other positions that we tend to associate with women. According to this line of reasoning, women are more likely to self-select into the “feminized” positions within certain fields, which then contributes to gender inequality in the labor market.

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